By Francesca Merlo
According to UNICEF, some 540,000 children in earthquake-affected southwest Haiti are now facing the possible re-emergence of water-related diseases. Severe conditions in southwest Haiti - where more than half a million children lack access to shelter, clean water and sanitation - are rapidly increasing the threat of acute respiratory infections, diarrhoeal diseases, cholera and malaria.
The fear of Cholera
"The lives of thousands of children and families affected by the earthquake are now at risk, precisely because they do not have access to safe water, sanitation and hygiene," said Bruno Maes, UNICEF Representative in Haiti. "Cholera has not been reported in Haiti since February 2019, yet without urgent and firmer action the re-emergence of cholera and other waterborne diseases is a real threat that is increasing by the day."
Water loss since the earthquake
Before the earthquake, only more than half of the health facilities in the three departments most affected by the quake had basic access to water services. In the aftermath of the earthquake, nearly 60% of people in the three worst-affected departments do not have access to drinking water. Thousands of people whose homes have collapsed do not have access to sanitation, partly due to the damage caused by the earthquake.
With the National Directorate for Water and Sanitation (DINEPA) and civil society partners, UNICEF is improving access to water, sanitation and hygiene for affected families:
Approximately 73,600 people are receiving access to safe water through water transport systems, six water treatment plants and twenty-two bags; more than 35,200 people benefited from the distribution of some 7,000 hygiene kits, including household water treatment products, soap, water containers, hand washing devices and sanitary pads.
A week after the earthquake devastated Haiti, UNICEF sent more than 65,000 water purification tablets, 41 bags, three water treatment units and household hygiene kits. UNICEF has already ordered another 31,200 hygiene kits. UNICEF, the only UN agency to provide clean water to the affected population, aims to reach 500,000 people with water and sanitation.
"Our efforts to provide more safe drinking water do not match the dire needs in all the affected areas," Maes said. "Impatience and sometimes frustration are growing in some Haitian communities, and that is understandable. But hampering relief operations will not help. In recent days, several distributions of essential hygiene kits have been temporarily suspended due to tensions on the ground. Combined with financial constraints, insecurity is currently slowing down our life-saving activities in the field".
UNICEF appeals to the local authorities to ensure safe conditions for humanitarian organisations and to increase assistance to communities affected by the earthquake. The 14 August earthquake in Hait,i further exacerbated an already difficult humanitarian situation, characterised by persistent political instability, socio-economic crisis and increasing food insecurity and malnutrition, gang-related violence and internal displacement, the COVID-19 pandemic and Haitian-Dominican migration influx.
In addition to the $48.8 million appeal launched for 2021, UNICEF is now calling for a $73.3 million humanitarian appeal for children to scale up its interventions in response to the earthquake and to help IDPs. So far, less than 1% of this requested funding has been received.
UNICEF is calling on the international community to urgently provide additional funding for the humanitarian response and to prevent the emergence of water-borne diseases in Haiti after the earthquake.